Dining Room

The Room

Urban middle-class dining was formal in the 19th century. The Edwards family meals involved multiple course with an array of dishes and utensils. The Edwards family employed a full time cook along with a "dining room girl" to serve meals. Helen would step on a button to ring a bell after each course to alert the servants that it was time to clear the dishes and bring a new course. When we were putting in carpet during the restoration, we could see the place where the call bell ran through the floor toward the kitchen.

The clock on the sideboard was originally the kitchen clock that the cook used. Mrs. Edwards gave it to the cook (named Ellen Bonner) when she left service, and it was passed down through the Bonner family and eventually donated back. We know what we know about Mrs. Bonner because of that connection. Normally, very little is known about servants.

Abraham Lincoln was a frequent dinner guest here and with other prominent family in town. More than just an opportunity to socialize, these gatherings were chances to form political and professional connections. Lincoln had to be able to conduct himself like a gentleman, and Mary Lincoln helped him do that by imparting her knowledge of the social norms of the time.

The portraits on the wall are of other frequent Edwards guests, the Judd family. They are George Judd, his wife Lucy Judd, and their child, Lillie Judd. George Judd was a judge. Lillie died (probably of illness) shortly after her ninth birthday in 1865. Her grieving parents had this portrait painted later that same year as a memorial to their lost child. Their portraits were done later by George Healy.

Objects

The table is original to the Edwards family, but it did not start life as a table. It began as the family's square grand piano, and the legs were later re-purposed as a table. We think that the family's actual dining table was much larger, or would have had extension leaves, as the household was large and they frequently had dinner guests.

The sideboard was signed by the cabinetmaker, Thomas C. Estep of Cincinnati, and dated February 14, 1831. It originally belonged to the Enos family of Springfield. Our neighborhood, the oldest in Springfield, is named Enos Park in honor of that family.

Why do you think these dishes are broken? In the 19th century, there was no garbage collection, so when people wanted to discard a broken dish, they usually threw them in the privy, or outhouse. These artifacts were recovered from an archaeological excavation of one of the Edwards' privies. It is essentially a sampling of the Edwards' garbage.

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